April 3rd, 2007

Review-o-Matic

There's a funny piece by John Bloom  in the National Review, on the perils of reading (and writing) book reviews.  Reminded me a bit of an old parody in the National Lampoon or Rolling Stone, the Review-o-Matic where, among other things, you could pick out your adjectives for describing guitar solos -- "crunchy," "sludgy" "sledgehammer," etc.

http://www.nationalreview.com:80/comment/comment-bloom052102.asp

And in an only tangentially  related story, today's Guardian presents an expose of Oxbridge essay mills, where you pay between 80 and 20,000 quid for essays written to order by students and grads from Oxford and Cambridge.  The pay scale goes up, depending on your own expertise and how fast you can turn around the assignment -- overnight can net you as much as 600 quid (that's more than a thousand bucks). 

http://education.guardian.co.uk/students/news/story/0,,2048465,00.html

I may have missed my calling -- I used to do this at college, though as an independent contractor.  I'd write papers on Dune, or Frankenstein, or The Lord of the Rings -- for some reason, students taking a class in Science Fiction and Fantasy had a hard time getting a handle on the material, or maybe they were just too stoned (it was the 1970s) to focus on the homework.  I charged a buck a page, a six-pack of Budweiser, and a carton of cigarettes per term paper.  I was a lousy typist (the beer didn't help)  so it was time-intensive work and I eventually gave it up for more lucrative employment, making pizzas at a seedy joint in Queenstown, Maryland.

Amazing Racists...Or Size-ists...Or Something

Political correctness strikes me as being a hedge against prejudice. Having been born and raised in the south, growing up in a household in which the word “nigra” was often used, I have a pretty good nose for prejudice; and now, living in a part of the NW where you can go for days without running into a person of color, I see a great deal of political correctness that has nothing to do with the reality of living in multi-cultural society and much to do to with masking prejudice. Crying “For shame!” when Mel Gibson goes on a hate binge is a way of establishing one’s egalitarian credentials, but it can mean nothing in terms of how one truly feels and thinks. Mel Gibson is a buffoon and he’s not the problem. The real problem is how America hides its innately un-egalitarian stance behind façades like such as PC and thus allows prejudice to flourish like mold inside the nation’s walls.

A case in point: the other night I watched an episode of the Amazing Race. This year one of the competing teams consists of a young blond woman of Rumanian extraction and her sister, who is afflicted with dwarfism or, in PC terms, is a little person. I call them Myrna and Schmyrna because I can never remember their names. If one accepts that the men and women who edit the show are doing so in a manner that reflects a degree of reality, then Myrna and Schmyrna are a couple of nasty articles. They are abrasive, devious, petty, and not terribly bright, and they are often, thanks to those qualities, hilarious in their shrill ineptitude.

The other night they were particularly hilarious. Forced to eat a two-foot long length of Polish sausage, Myrna (the shorter of the pair) labored manfully to complete the meal and then was shown puking into a bucket. Indeed, the camera lingered on her thick features and stupefied expression, on the string of drool and vomit hanging from her chin. Afterward Schmyrna engaged in a long bickering fight with a cab driver, while Myrna sulked and whined. This, too, was played for laughs. Then came the piece de resistance. The challenge was to put on a suit of medieval armor and walk a horse down a country lane. Myrna, clad in a little person’s armor, half-blinded by the helmet, intimidated by the immense horse, wandered in circles and took two pratfalls, virtual face-plants. The other contestants managed it handily, stepping along briskly, and when I saw that I realized that the challenge had been designed to humiliate Myrna.

Much is made on the show of Myrna’s courage, her refusal to quit, her resilience, traits that, it is implied, are common to all little people, and yet at the same time they ridicule her, they portray her as a squatty little bitch, a creature of low-comedy, the dwarf you’d love to toss. I have no particular problem with this. Most humor is mean-spirited, especially that aimed at groundlings, and America has become a nation of groundlings, a nation proud of its groundling status, aggressively ordinary and anti-intellectual. I admit that I laughed watching Myrna—I’m thoroughly middle class and not at all interested in establishing PC credentials—and I imagine a lot of little people laughed as well, though I’m certain some did not. What galls me about the Amazing Race and shows like it is their hypocrisy in presenting material that is clearly racist or sexist or size-ist under a PC banner…but that’s one of the perils of PC. It’s a lip-service kind of thing that can provide a shield for prejudice. Like an old Detroit friend of mine said, “Screw a buncha PC bullshit! Ain’t nothing going to change here ‘til we start talking about what’s real…and that’s gonna happen! Yeah, right!”
  • pgdf

"Well, we did do the nose."

Can I be the only person who, confronted with the mad dash to canonize the late Pope John Paul II, by first establishing his saintly credentials via nunnish testimony, invariably flashes on this bit from MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL...?

CROWD: A witch! A witch! A witch! A witch! We've found a witch! A witch!
A witch! A witch! A witch! We've got a witch! A witch! A witch! Burn
her! Burn her! Burn her! We've found a witch! We've found a witch! A
witch! A witch! A witch!
VILLAGER #1: We have found a witch. May we burn her?
CROWD: Burn her! Burn! Burn her! Burn her!
BEDEVERE: How do you know she is a witch?
VILLAGER #2: She looks like one.
CROWD: Right! Yeah! Yeah!
BEDEVERE: Bring her forward.
WITCH: I'm not a witch. I'm not a witch.
BEDEVERE: Uh, but you are dressed as one.
WITCH: They dressed me up like this.
CROWD: Augh, we didn't! We didn't...
WITCH: And this isn't my nose. It's a false one.
BEDEVERE: Well?
VILLAGER #1: Well, we did do the nose.
BEDEVERE: The nose?
VILLAGER #1: And the hat, but she is a witch!
VILLAGER #2: Yeah!
CROWD: We burn her! Right! Yeaaah! Yeaah!
BEDEVERE: Did you dress her up like this?
VILLAGER #1: No!
VILLAGER #2 and 3: No. No.
VILLAGER #2: No.
VILLAGER #1: No.
VILLAGERS #2 and #3: No.
VILLAGER #1: Yes.
VILLAGER #2: Yes.
VILLAGER #1: Yes. Yeah, a bit.
VILLAGER #3: A bit.
VILLAGERS #1 and #2: A bit.
VILLAGER #3: A bit.
VILLAGER #1: She has got a wart.
RANDOM: [cough]
BEDEVERE: What makes you think she is a witch?
VILLAGER #3: Well, she turned me into a newt.
BEDEVERE: A newt?
VILLAGER #3: I got better.
VILLAGER #2: Burn her anyway!
VILLAGER #1: Burn!
CROWD: Burn her! Burn! Burn her!...
BEDEVERE: Quiet! Quiet! Quiet! Quiet! There are ways of telling whether
she is a witch.
  • pgdf

TEETH Is Toothsome

We're living in the Golden Age of small presses. And surely one of the most intriguing is Payseur & Schmidt.

http://www.payseurandschmidt.com/index.shtml

I myself have a book coming out with this firm, possibly as early as this year. It will be titled COSMOCOPIA, and feature drawings by noted artist Jim Woodring, he of the amphibious brain.

http://www.jimwoodring.com/

But even were I not affiliated with these folks, I'd covet their books for the sheer value of their texts and the awesomeness of their "objet d'art" qualities.

Case in point: TEETH, by Therese Littleton.

The story concerns a "ribofunk" future where people are turned into quasi-sharks to fill niches in an extinction-plagued ecosystem. It reads like a cross between Peter Watts and Ed Bryant. Superb!

The book itself is a chapbook gorgeously illustrated within and without, and featuring the clever built-in bookmark of an actual shark's tooth on a cord. Seldom have wit and design conspired so fruitfully.

Years from now, you'll be kicking yourself if you don't get in on the ground floor of this enterprise.

If you need more convincing, check out this fine interview with the players, conducted by Jeff VanderMeer.

http://www.sfsite.com/04a/ps221.htm

(no subject)

P&S's books are simply gorgeous.  (But are there really typos in the Darkening Garden?!  quel horreur ...)  They remind me of volumes by Black Sun Press and Hogarthor Anais Nin slaving over her printing press,  by virtue of their beauty alone.  Therese Littleton's gem is a case in point.  If one was looking at their books solely from a collectible standpoint, they'd be worth getting hold of. 

And in addition to all that, you get CONTENT.

I think Jacob McMurray is a design genius.  I saw some of his band gig posters (for Iron & Wine, Wilco, Bright Eyes, Sleator-Kinney, etc.) when I visited the Experience Music Project in Seattle last year and was completely blown away by his work.  (Full disclosure: after seeing his art, I begged my publisher to get him to do the cover for my next novel.)  His work fuses late-20th century pop art & culture — psychedelia,  SF illustration/movies,  film noir — with a genuine 21st century vision.  No nostalgia; no retro reverb.  This is the real thing. 

Can't wait to see what these guys do next.